This is one of the most beautiful, most intricate plays I’ve ever had the privilege to explore. Lynn Nottage’s INTIMATE APPAREL examines the basic human desire for intimacy and love; the need to be touched; the need to connect with that someone who sees us for our own intrinsic value. Ms. Nottage tells a compelling page-turner of a story, full of pride and dignity, with a sense of the continuity of African-Americans from 1905 to today, and with a deep understanding of the struggles of all women that continue into this century.
Here are a few quotes from INTIMATE APPAREL, with comments by the playwright herself, Lynn Nottage:
Esther: It was as though God kissed my hands when I first pulled the fabric through the sewing machine and held up a finished garment. I discovered all I need in these fingers.
“The play was inspired by my great-grandmother, Ethel Boyce, who arrived alone in New York City in 1902. She was an amazing seamstress who specialized in intimate apparel for women. Plain and deeply religious, it was believed by her seven younger sisters that she would never marry. But, despite the family predictions, she began corresponding with a man in Panama who had seen a portrait of Ethel hanging above her uncle’s bunk. That man was to become my great-grandfather, George Armstrong, who left us nothing but a few fragmented tales of the hardship of working on the Panama Canal. He died prematurely when he was hit by a stone while proselytizing on a speaker’s corner. The story may be apocryphal, but it’s what I’ve come to embrace as the truth.” Esther: Do you think there’s something wrong with a woman alone?
“The women in the play are bound by circumstance; they’ve all been imprisoned in some way by society’s limited expectations. In 1905, the suffragette movement was in its infancy, and the average American man did not view women as his equal. The women in the play, while they may not be able to fully give voice to their frustrations, understand on some basic level that they share a common struggle. But there also remains a racial and social gulf that divides them.”
Mr. Marks (A Romanian Orthodox Jew): I just made tea, would you have a cup of tea with me?
Esther (An African American Christian woman): Thank you, that would be nice.
“The play is set during a period when class, race and social mores erected such insurmountable barriers, that even the most unadorned of emotions were impossible to express freely. Remember, the language of emotions that has evolved from a hundred years of a culture of psychology did not exist for Esther or Mr. Marks. So they communicated through subtle gestures. How does one who’s bound by tradition break tradition? And what does that do to one’s understanding of the world? This is one of the dilemmas that both Esther and Mr.Marks face.”
I am interested and excited for you to experience this play. Just like Esther’s crazy quilt with its varied colors, textures and patterns – there may be specific pieces and patches of the performance that speak to you; that may conjure a memory or create an unexpected yearning. Please, take it with you.
- Susan Baer Collins
All photos taken by Andrew Marinkovich of Malone and Co.